Screening for Melanoma

Cancer screening exams can help find cancer at its earliest stage, when the chances for successful treatment are greatest. These tests are usually done when the patient is healthy and has no specific symptoms.

Although there are currently no screening tests recommended to detect cases of melanoma that show no signs or symptoms, expert cancer researchers at the OSUCCC – James are working to develop tests that can detect and diagnose the disease as early as possible, leading to improved outcomes, faster responses and fewer side effects.

Because early detection is crucial, the OSUCCC – James dermatologists and melanoma specialists regularly offer screening clinics for potential skin cancers. Additionally, our High Risk Clinic focuses on monitoring patients who are at increased risk for melanoma and other skin cancers.

If you have risk factors for melanoma, you should regularly examine moles and other skin lesions.

Melanoma Risk Factors

A cancer risk factor is anything that increases your risk of developing the disease. Risk factors for melanoma include unusual moles, exposure to sunlight and health history.

Other risk factors for melanoma include:

  • Having a fair complexion, which includes the following:
    • Fair skin that freckles and burns easily, does not tan or tans poorly
    • Blue or green or other light-colored eyes
    • Red or blond hair
  • Being exposed to natural sunlight or artificial sunlight (such as from tanning beds) over long periods of time.
  • Being exposed to certain environmental risk factors, such as radiation, solvents, vinyl chloride and PCBs, an industrial chemical that was banned in the United States in 1979.
  • Having a history of many blistering sunburns, especially as a child or teenager
  • Having several large or many small moles
  • Having a family history of unusual moles (known as atypical nevus syndrome)
  • Having a family or personal history of melanoma
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Having certain changes in the genes that are linked to melanoma

Although having a fair complexion increases melanoma risk, anyone, including people with dark skin, can develop the disease.

You can lower your risk for melanoma and other skin cancers by minimizing exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun, sunlamps and tanning beds.

(Source: National Cancer Institute)

Not everyone with risk factors will get melanoma. But having certain risk factors may increase your risk of developing the disease. If you are at risk for developing melanoma, talk to your doctor about tests to find out if you have early signs of the disease.

If you’ve been diagnosed with melanoma, would like a second opinion or would like to speak with a melanoma specialist, please call The James Line at 800-293-5066 or 614-293-5066 to make an appointment.

Diagnosing Melanoma

An accurate, complete diagnosis is essential for effectively treating melanoma. Because there is no routine cancer, the OSUCCC – James’s world-renowned melanoma specialists and sub-specialists reach across multiple disciplines and modes of treatment to offer patients the latest technologies, drug treatments and the most advanced procedures to understand melanoma at the molecular and genetic levels – the levels that drive each patient’s specific kind of cancer.

The OSUCCC – James is home to world-renowned diagnostic experts in melanoma. In fact, our team includes experts who specialize in melanomas – and only melanomas, 24/7 – studying, discovering and treating each kind, and developing and delivering leading-edge therapies.

These sub-specialists and super sub-specialists use the most accurate, advanced diagnostic testing and technology to analyze your cancer, enabling an entire team across multiple medical disciplines to determine the most effective, targeted treatment specifically for you.

Melanoma usually is detected when a mole or pigmented area of skin changes or looks abnormal. If melanoma is suspected, your OSUCCC – James specialists will conduct the following tests to form a diagnosis:

Skin Exam

An OSUCCC – James skin cancer expert examines the skin for signs of abnormal moles, birthmarks or other pigmented areas. The doctor also analyzes the size, color, shape and texture of any mole, mark or pigmented area.

Biopsy

A piece of tissue or tumor is removed so that a specially trained OSUCCC – James pathologist can examine the cells under a microscope for any signs cancer. The cells also will be analyzed for certain genetic changes that indicate the specific subtype of melanoma, which helps your specialists choose the most effective, personalized treatment options for your particular cancer.

Early melanoma cells can resemble noncancerous cells, so it’s important to get a diagnosis or second opinion.

Tests Used to Stage Melanoma

If you are diagnosed with melanoma, staging the tumor is just one of many ways your OSUCCC – James melanoma experts can determine the amount and location of your cancer, as well as if it has spread, and it can help them choose the most effective, personalized treatment options for your particular cancer.

The OSUCCC – James specialists use the following tests to stage melanoma:

Lymph node mapping and sentinel lymph node biopsy. A specially trained OSUCCC - James surgical oncologist removes only the first lymph node or nodes in which melanoma likely is present and analyzes the node samples for signs of cancer. The nodes are identified using a special injected dye.

CT Scan (Computed Tomography). An X-ray test that produces detailed, cross-sectional images of your body.

PET Scan (Positron Emission Tomography). A PET scan uses a small amount of injected radioactive tracer mixed with glucose to identify cancer cells in the body. The PET scanner rotates around the patient’s body, and a special imaging camera displays images of these cells brighter than those of normal, healthy cells.

MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging). An MRI uses a high-powered magnet and radio waves to produce detailed images of the body. A special substance is injected into a vein before the test, and that substance will collect around areas with cancer cells. A computer then translates the radio waves into a detailed picture to help the OSUCCC – James specialists determine if a tumor is present.

Blood chemistry analysis. A blood sample is taken and measured for certain substances in the blood. An enzyme called lactate dehydrogenase is found in higher levels than normal in people who have melanoma.

(Source: National Cancer Institute)

Staging Melanoma

If you are diagnosed with melanoma, staging the tumor is just one of many ways your OSUCCC – James melanoma experts can determine the amount and location of your cancer, as well as if it has spread, and it can help them choose the most effective, personalized treatment options for your particular cancer.

The staging classification remains the same throughout treatment.

Stage 0

Abnormal melanocytes (cells that create pigment, called melanin, in the skin and eyes) are found in the epidermis (outer layer of skin). These abnormal melanocytes may become cancerous and spread into nearby normal tissue. Stage 0 is also called melanoma in situ.

Stage I

Cancer has formed. Stage I is divided into stages IA and IB.

  • Stage IA:
    • The tumor is not more than 1 millimeter thick, with
  • Stage IB: The tumor is either:
    • Not more than 1 millimeter thick and it has ulceration; or
    • More than 1 millimeter but not more than 2 millimeters thick, which no ulceration.

Stage II

Stage II is divided into stages IIA, IIB and IIC.

  • Stage IIA: The tumor is either:
    • More than 1 millimeter but not more than 2 millimeters thick, with ulceration; or
    • More than 2 millimeters but not more than 4 millimeters thick, with no ulceration.
  • Stage IIB: The tumor is either:
    • More than 2 millimeters but not more than 4 millimeters thick, with ulceration; or
    • More than 4 millimeters thick, with no ulceration.
  • Stage IIC: The tumor is more than 4 millimeters thick, with ulceration.

Stage III

The tumor may be any thickness, with or without ulceration. One or more of the following is true:

  • Cancer has spread to one or more lymph node
  • Lymph nodes may be joined together (matted)
  • Cancer may be in a lymph vessel between the primary tumor and nearby lymph nodes
  • Very small tumors may be found on or under the skin, not more than 2 centimeters away from where the cancer first started

Stage IV

Cancer has spread to other places in the body, such as the lung, liver, brain, bone, soft tissue or gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Cancer may have spread to places in the skin far away from where it first started.

(Source: National Cancer Institute)

If you’ve been diagnosed with melanoma, would like a second opinion or would like to speak with a melanoma specialist, please call The James Line at 800-293-5066 or 614-293-5066 to make an appointment.

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Patient Story

Patient Stories Kelly Bishop

Kelly Bishop

After Kelly Bishop learned she had melanoma, she received treatment that included surgery and immunotherapy from the OSUCCC – James. Now, she considers her treatment team family.

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